Video is still a very new medium in the fine-art field. There are no real rules and that makes us as the practitioner’s very privileged- Paul Holmes


Recently, Studio 21 showcased Outside the Box - Art Exhibition presenting the recent video works by Paul Holmes. The director and film maker showcases his various works, some of which are being exhibited for the first time.  The artist alters the duration and rhythm of the moving image and highlights the structures of movement that creates visually appealing scenes that goes unnoticed when seen in standard time speed.  Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Holmes, who also teaches at the School of Arts and Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University.

Your work studies the facial nuances of emotion, is this something people often miss in regular communication?

I think that people are very aware of the meaning of facial expressions on a subconscious level.  They are part of communication in day-to-day life.  My work "Outside the Box" captures the expressions made by improvising jazz musicians.  People who go to concerts are perhaps unaware of these expressions as they are focusing on the performance as a whole. But research by psychologists suggests that these expressions may well be important in the imparting of the emotional meaning of the music to an audience.  People receive these visual signals in support of their enjoyment of the music, but without necessarily realizing it.   That is why I felt it was important to make this work without any explicit suggestion of the performance that is taking place.  The piece is silent and the viewer cannot see the instruments that are being played.  The intention is to make the viewer watch and consider these expressions consciously that they normally only appreciate unconsciously.  These expressions are mysterious, extreme, bizarre even.  They seem somehow to be at the limits of sanity.  And yet the work contains no clue as to what is causing them.  It is up to the viewer to form their own conclusions. That is what gives it its power I think.

You seem to read faces the way others read palms, when did the facial expressions start to interest you?

This area of interest came to me by accident.  I was preoccupied by a sense of my own ageing, and that made me interested in facial workouts.  When I started doing research into this, I realized that countless people must share this personal obsession of mine.  The work "Time Machine" came about because of this.  I think that working on this piece made me conscious of the power of the face, or made me somehow fascinated by faces. So when I saw Haftor Medboe's jazz band at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, I already had some heightened awareness of the face as the seat of expression.  It was a natural progression for me to make "Outside the Box" as a consequence.

What can people learn about paying attention to the details of expression?

That is hard to address because I am not trying to offer answers to any particular questions in my work. Rather, I am trying to make people see something that they don't usually notice, to ask their own questions about meaning and form their own conclusions.  

Your work is being hailed as an art form. Does all art starts with observation and the artist's view/worldview of things?

I believe that creative ideas of this kind often come to you by accident.  It was never my original intention to be an artist that was interested in faces.  But then, after the success of these works I began to think of myself in those terms; that this was some kind of groove that I belonged in; that my work from now on would focus on faces.  But that was a mistake.  I searched for the next 'face' work that I could make, but of course found nothing.  You cannot force an idea to come.  Since I have been living in this city a couple of ideas for new works have come to me: One is conceptually inspired, the other visually.  Neither has anything to do with faces. It was only when I let go of this notion and stopped trying to think of this kind of idea that I was open to seeing new possibilities.  

What would you say to aspiring young media artists, how would you encourage them?

Video is still a very new medium in the fine-art field.  There are no real rules and that makes us as practitioners very privileged.  We can do whatever we like.  But when an idea comes to me, I ask myself two fundamental questions: Firstly, what benefit can I bring to this idea by making a moving-image work rather than a still photograph, and secondly, how is this idea better served by a video artwork as opposed to a narrative piece, either documentary or fiction, that would be more at home on TV or in the cinema.  These questions are key if video art is to be distinguished from these other dominant cultural forms.  What I have learned from living here and finding a new direction to take with my work is that an artist always needs to be open to new possibilities, however they come to you.  The enemy of creativity is to try too hard to find a specific thing.  Look, listen and be open-minded. Then works will suggest themselves to you when you least expect it, and demand in the strongest possible way to be made.

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